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Noncustodial mother had more time with kids than court orders specified; newly married father abruptly restricts it and demands other changes

Your Question:
I am a mother of two children now ages 11 and 10. At the time of my divorce from my ex-husband, I chose to leave due to the countless arguements and insults of my ability to be a wife (his opinion). At the time, when I moved, my children were in one school district and I moved to another. I was seeing them every day after school and my mother was involved in their after-school care also. Now my ex and I live in the same school district about 10 minutes away from each other. Our divorce was in 2003. We have had, up until now, a "reasonable" parenting time arrangement. I have re-married and have 3 step-children that my biological children are very close to. The court order states that I am to have tuesday nights, every other weekend, and days after school when their father is not able to be with them. We have joint custody with him having physical custody during the school year. Our arrangements have always been different and more liberal since he moved closer to me. Heres the catch. He re- married this summer. He now says that the visitation schedule in the divorce decree is too hard on the kids and wants to give me only weekends 3x per mo, he has them mon - fri. He says that is "in their best interests". To my understanding via my oldest daughter, he has been degrading me and my current husband in front of at least her. My children want 50/50 custody/visitation. My 11 year old is very mature mentally for her age and this is tearing her apart. I have filed for mediation but he tells my daughter that he has started a motion against me. I am just sick over this and don't know what to do or expect. The original arrangements were because of the distance and my desire to not have the kids pulled out of the school they knew. He is stating that since I left the marital home that I have no rights, that is why he got physical custody. Please help

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing.

First, I strongly suggest that you buy the book Divorce Poison by Warshak. It addresses a tactic called alienation, where one parent attempts to turn the child against the other parent using a variety of methods. The book is very easy to read. It doesn't just examine the negative impact on the kid, which is obvious, but it also gives proactive steps a parent can take to best combat the effects. Simply taking the higher road can be a recipe for disaster. It's critical for you to understand how to respond appropriately to a child who tells you nasty things the father tells her. I have a link to this book on my Recommended Books page.

That said, I agree somewhat with the foundation of what your ex is claiming. It's quite possible that a mid-week overnight in one home could be disruptive to weekly patterns during the school year.

However, where I disagree is in his solution. If a parent were TRULY concerned about what he outlined, and if that parent were likewise TRULY concerned about the kids' best interest (i.e., high contact with both parents), I think a better approach would be, "Look, I think it's best for the kids to have as much stability during the school year on school days. So, I'd suggest that one of us will have them from Monday afternoon to Friday afternoon, and the other one will have them from Friday afternoon until Monday morning. That gives them the stability during the week, and the weekend parent has massive amounts of quality time too."

It sounds like you've been seeing the kids very very frequently until recently. If you have solid ways to document that, I think it'd be reasonable for you to go into court arguing the following:

  • When original orders were made, there was significant distance between parents. Now, parents are only a few miles apart.

  • Though the original order specified XYZ, the actual arrangement that has been in place for most of 2005 has been ABC (per the evidence shown via affadavits, copies of emails between parents, etc).

  • The problems all started when the father got married two months ago. While I have nothing against his wife, it appears that the marriage has been the catalyst in suddenly restricting the children's access to their mother. This abrupt shift in attitude is not related to the children's best interest.

  • The father is involving the children in matters of litigation and forcing them to choose loyalties. Here is the testimony of expert witness Dr. Jane Smith, a child psychologist who has spent time with the children and testifies they are anxiety-ridden over the disparaging comments and inappropriate conversation the father tells them. This is not in the children's best interest for them to be in such environment for a majority of the time.

  • For all of the above reasons, you request new orders to reflect schedule ABC (or something close), which has been the parenting plan in place for nearly a year before these problems started due to the father's remarriage.

On to other stuff that really doesn't matter:

  • You're sick over this. Okay, so am I in my situation. So are 10 million other people going through this. Talk to a therapist, meditate, read the book The Four Agreements or do whatever it takes to have a more grounded foundation for yourself. Sick people are weak people (i.e., that's why lions chase the sick antelopes-- they're much easier to catch than the antelopes who are equally frightened but who force themselves to remain strong and full of energy).

  • You don't know what to do. Duh, all you have to do is start doing something. You're already doing the research to learn about what makes the most sense (i.e., that's why you wrote to me). You may or may not hire an attorney. You may or may not stop giving this man all of your power. You may or may not learn how to respond to what is very clear alienation tactics from father to daughter. You have a world of options about which you already know, so you just gotta start picking some.

  • You moved out of the marital home. Ancient history. No bearing on the present. If you wanted primary custody, you probably now realize what a bad decision it was to move away (perhaps for your current husband?). But it's in the past. Parents are now a few miles apart, and it's round two for the custody battle, it would seem.

  • You don't know what to expect. Welcome to life. Do you think residents of New Orleans were expecting the disastrous impact of Hurricane Katrina? Do you think a million people expected to get a flat tire today? Do you think Peter Jennings expected to get small cell carcinoma and die within several months of diagnosis? Do you think people expect to win the lottery? Do you think Angelina Jolie expected to end up with Brad Pitt (i.e., maybe because I'm already married)? All you can do is your best, and the outcome will be what it will be.

It's important, if you really want to seem some change in the time that the kids spend with you, that you not go into this half-assed. You need to commit yourself to moving forward, and of course you need to discuss it with your husband, since it could be pretty stressful for several months.

Good luck!


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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